Robert Pastor, Director, Latin American and
Caribbean Program, The Carter Center
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
ROBERT PASTOR: Democracy cannot be exported, because it’s too powerful an idea. It’s not
something that can be imposed, nor is it necessary to be imposed. All of the nations of the world
are made up of people who want their freedom respected by their government.
KEITH PORTER: Robert Pastor and the work of The Carter Center on this edition of
PASTOR: Mediating elections is what we do, which is monitoring elections plus working
with all parties to make sure that all parties feel that they are having a fair chance—that the
electoral process can be free and fair. Therefore, on the eve of the election when we go back to
these parties and say to them, “Have you had a fair chance? If the count is fair, will you accept
the results?” our expectation, and hope, is that they will say yes.
PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
For ten years Robert Pastor has worked with former President Jimmy Carter as director of the
Latin American and Caribbean Program at The Carter Center in Atlanta. Together they have worked
on many issues. Most recently they have attempted to bring peaceful and fair elections to the
PASTOR: The Latin-American program of The Carter Center has concentrated on election
monitoring and mediating. Over the last ten years, we have done over 14 elections. We only choose
the elections that are problematic, not the easy ones. Unfortunately, the Dominican Republic’s
elections have been problematic. In 1990 when we observed the election, there was a serious
question as to whether they were free and fair or rigged. We tried to come up with a procedure by
which opposition parties who claim fraud would have an opportunity to put evidence forward if
they had it. Then we could judge as to whether the process was fair or not. We did not seek
concrete evidence at that time. As a result, the election results did go forward. Although, we
did have problems.
In 1994, other election monitoring organizations were there and did receive concrete evidence
that manipulation had occurred. As a result of that, instead of having a presidential election
four years later, they revised the constitution and decided to have the election two years later.
Then President Joaquin Balaguer would not be permitted to run. So the pre-election visit that
former President Jimmy Carter and I made on April 22 to 25, to the Dominican Republic was
designed to assess the electorial and political climate in advance of the elections, in order to
see what the concerns of the parties were and anticipate any possible problems.
PORTER: In the Dominican process there will be a potential runoff election?
PASTOR: That’s right. If no candidate wins 50 percent plus one vote, then there will be a
runoff. That is also a new innovation.
PORTER: Alright, now what did you see while you were on this pre-election visit?
PASTOR: The encouraging news is that the Dominican Republic has a new generation of
political leaders that are running for office—three very good candidates. All of them expressed
great interest in moving the country to a new stage of democratic consolidation. The current
president of the Dominican Republic, Joaquin Balaguer, who has been president for 22 of the last
30 years and ruled the country directly or indirectly for much longer than that, is not on the
ballot. But his presence, though frail and blind and almost deaf, is still enormous. Therefore,
we were able to sense the combination of hope and wariness. Hope that finally the Dominican
Republic will have an honest election. Wariness and uncertainty as to whether that will still
happen, because the feeling among many Dominicans is that they were almost there several times in
the past and haven’t quite crossed the pearly gates.
PORTER: Like you described, there’s such a fragility there in the democracy that this
election seems to carry with it even more importance—that it in fact be credible. Do you agree?
PASTOR: This is a crucial election in Dominican history. Because this could be the moment
that the Dominican Republic joins so many other Latin American nations in having an election in
which all parties accept the results. That almost never has happened. Only perhaps one time in
Dominican history have all of the parties accepted the results, that was in 1962. Seven months
later, the victor was overthrown in a military coup. So this is a turning point in Dominican
history. That’s the reason we accepted an invitation. Former President Carter received
invitations on behalf of the group that he chairs, which is called the Council of Freely Elected
Heads of Governments. It’s a group of 26 presidents and prime ministers—some in power, many
retired like former President Carter and former President Ford. From Canada, Pierre Trudeau, Joe
Clark, to Raul Alfonsin in Argentina, Michael Manly, P.J. Patterson, Edward Cogga, Oscar Arias,
and many leaders throughout the hemisphere. That council Carter chairs is based on The Carter
Center. That is the council that has monitored so many elections.
In the case of the Dominican Republic, we will be collaborating with our long-term partners the
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Together our two organizations have had
experience in more than 50 countries. Together, we’re going to be working on this election. We
accepted invitations from all of the presidential candidates, plus the election commission,
because we realized what an important election this was for the Dominican people.
PORTER: Let’s jump over to the other side of the island of Hispaniola and look at the
situation in Haiti. The last American soldiers, at least the last ones assigned to the
peacekeeping mission, are leaving this month, 19 months after President Carter and yourself,
along with some others, negotiated the peaceful way in for those soldiers. How does the situation
in Haiti look now?
PASTOR: In Haiti, in trying to draw an evaluation of developments in the country,
everything depends on your point of reference. If you compare Haiti’s political or economic
evolution with Costa Rica or Venezuela or Columbia or the United States, you will have to be
pessimistic. But I think that’s a bad point of comparison. The real point of reference for
understanding Haiti’s current political and economic situation is it’s 200-year history. Compared
to the last 200 years, Haiti is doing very well. President Clinton was very wise to remain
engaged in Haiti, despite pessimistic assessment. He was right to have asked former President
Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and General Powell to negotiate the exit of the military leaders and
the restoration of the constitutional government in Haiti. I was privileged to have been asked to
advise what I think was the most spectacular negotiating team that the United States has ever
fielded. He was right to remain engaged in Haiti and to offer economic assistance and political
guidance. The situation has been frustrating for many parties. Again, if your point of comparison
is how is it doing today compared to the last 200 years, it’s doing very, very well. There are
real signs of progress in the economy. The elections were not completely clean or great, but they
were far better than the usual way in which Haitians had transferred power in the past, which is
by the gun. The human rights situation (well not perfect) in which there is violence, there are
assassinations from time to time. Still, if you compare it to the last three years or the last
200 years, Haiti is doing exceptionally well. So everything depends on the point of reference. If
you put it in Haiti’s historical context, President Clinton’s decisions and his support for
what’s happened there have been very positive as has the evolution of development there.
PORTER: What will The Carter Center’s ongoing role in Haiti be?
PASTOR: We don’t have a program in Haiti right now. In 1995, after former President
Carter, Senator Nunn, and General Powell had negotiated the restoration of President Aristede,
the three of them and myself returned to Haiti in February 1995, to offer assistance to the
Haitian government. There was some ambivalence. Some of the people in President Aristede’s
entourage were angry over the agreement that had been negotiated, because they wanted US forces
to kill and destroy the military and all of the people who were in power then. We felt very
strongly, and we still do believe that the best hope for Haiti is one of reconciliation.
Therefore, this agreement that permitted the peaceful restoration of constitutional government
without the loss of one American soldier or Haitian was the best single way to do that. Because
of this division in Aristede’s government, it was not clear that they necessarily wanted us to
play a role. I returned for the June 25, 1995, parliamentary and municipal elections. I found
serious problems there and discussed them personally with President Aristede. Unfortunately, very
few of those problems were corrected. We issued a strong report that was critical for the purpose
of trying to increase the prospects that those problems would be corrected. Regrettably, very few
of them were. Still, the outcome was far better than in the past, as I’ve just said. But I’m not
sure we have a role to play. We have not had an opportunity to meet with the new president, Rene
Proval. Currently, I think we will concentrate our energies elsewhere, unless there is a
groundswell of interest on the island that we play a more active role.
PORTER: Former President Carter was a guest on our program late last year. About that
time he was involved in talks with a variety of groups crucial to the US-Cuban relationship.
Since that time there have been some dramatic turns in US-Cuban relations. What’s The Carter
Center’s role? Are you still talking with US-Cuban groups?
PASTOR: For the last two years we have conducted discussions throughout the
Cuban-American community representing the full range of political views within the community. We
have had respectful, useful, and constructive talks. We have had talks with Cuban government
officials. I went to Havana in May 1995 and met with President Fidel Castro, his economic
ministers, and his Vice President Carlos Lage. I met with Cardinal Ortego of the church, other
church leaders, dissident and human rights leaders, and people with independent associations
there. Also, we have conducted a wide range of discussions with US government officials,
senators, and congressmen as well.
What we found in Cuba was an openness to a dialogue that had been relatively new. We found among
the Cuban-American leaders, even those who have very strong views about Fidel Castro and believe
that stronger sanctions are necessary, that they were also interested in our dialogue. It’s
important to recall that after our conversation with Jorge mas Canosa, who is the President of
the Cuban-American National Foundation, he made it very clear that he would not oppose our talks
with the Cuban government. That represented an important step on his part. Therefore, it is with
great discouragement that the events of February of this past year have made it very difficult to
proceed with this dialogue. I’m talking about, first and foremost, the decision to shoot down two
civilian aircraft by the Cuban Air Force, which elicited a very firm and strong response by
President Clinton, including the passage of the Helms-Burton Act. That act has, in turn, evoked
what we’ve always seen in Cuba—a strong militant action on the part of the United States has
always evoked a strong militant reaction from Cuba. So we are now in a downward cycle where
dialogue becomes very difficult. We regret this spiral. I think there are opportunities in
improving US-Cuban relations and pursuing US interests as they relate to democracy and human
rights and development in Cuba. But I don’t see that there is much chance of doing it right now.
The passage of the Helm’s-Burton Act will ultimately be seen as counterproductive to these
interests. Our hopes that dialogue could begin a peaceful evolution within Cuba will not be
realized, certainly not in the short term as a result of this act.
So we have no real plans at this moment in time, other than to continue to talk with the
different groups as they are interested and as we are interested. But I’m not optimistic that
these discussions are going to lead to anything very constructive in the near future.
PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground with Robert Pastor,
director of the Latin American and Caribbean Program at The Carter Center. Dr. Pastor is also a
professor of political science at Emery University.
Printed transcripts and audiocassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the
broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit,
nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant to provoke thought and
encourage dialogue on world affairs.
Both Dr. Pastor and former President Carter have a deep interest in Panama and the Panama Canal.
Carter, of course, signed the 1977 treaty calling for full Panamanian control of the canal by
1999. Dr. Pastor worked on that treaty, and last year he was nominated by President Clinton to be
the US Ambassador to Panama. That nomination was later blocked by Senator Jesse Helms.
PASTOR: The United States and Panama face a very difficult decision, and I’m hopeful that
the two governments will walk up to this issue in a constructive way. Thus far they have not. The
Panama Canal treaties were a great success in two senses: number one is the United States has a
basic interest in keeping the canal open, secure, and neutral. The only way we could possibly do
that was to transfer total US control over the canal to a partnership with Panama. The more we
retained exclusive control and perpetuity of the canal, the more the canal was endangered. This
is difficult for many Americans to understand. How, they would ask, can we possibly retain
control by relaxing control, it’s counterintuitive. Indeed it is. Until you realize that it
wasn’t just a nostalgic need to keep the canal open that was motivating the United States. We had
a practical need to keep it open. The only way it can be kept open is to keep Panama from being a
resentful neighbor into being a partner. That’s what the canal treaties did. They preserve US
rights to secure the canal, but they made Panama into a partner.
When we signed the treaties in 1977, we thought 23 years later would be plenty of time to succeed
in making this peaceful transition. Unfortunately, in the 1980s a series of events made it
impossible for there to be any progress toward handing over the facilities, the bases, or the
land to Panama. As a result, we now face a situation that in less than four years we have to
transfer three quarters of all the bases of all the facilities—all the housing, all the land
(over which we have exercised authority for the last 93 years)—to Panama. This is going to be
very difficult to succeed in doing. I have no question that Panama will succeed in operating the
canal successfully in the year 2000. Thus far 90 percent of all the employees are Panamanians
[and] 60 percent of the managerial employees are Panamanians, but that can be shifted very
quickly with a good training program to perhaps 90 percent by 1999. The others that are not
Panamanian, they can hire.
There is no problem in operating the canal. The only question is uncertainty in Panama,
insecurity that the turnover of the canal will occur simultaneously with the departure of all US
bases and forces from Panama. The fact that that’s occurring simultaneously is leaving some
Panamanians and some shippers very insecure. Therefore, the question arises that rather than
transfer 75 percent of the property and the bases in just less than four years and force Panama
to absorb (by itself) those bases and an overnight loss of income of roughly $320 million a year,
perhaps the transition of at least the bases should be extended another five years by negotiation
of one or two bases. My understanding is that both governments are beginning exploratory talks on
the subject. It’s extremely sensitive. The Panama Canal has always been a sensitive issue in both
the United States and Panama.
I’m not certain that it is being handled in a way that will permit this decision to be made in a
manner that will show the world that a large and a small nation can successfully work together as
partners and can insure that the canal will be run operationally effective and secure throughout
the 21st century. But that’s the nature of the discussions right now.
PORTER: For a lot of people, I don’t think they understand the geopolitical significance
of the Panama Canal. Maybe you could tell us that. Refresh our memory about what an important
facility this is.
PASTOR: There are two dimensions to the Panama Canal from the American political psyche’s
perspective. The first is geopolitical and geoeconomic, and the second is geonostalgic. From a
geopolitical and economic standpoint, the construction of a canal through the isthmus of Panama
from 1904-1914 was a miraculous technological achievement on the part of the United States. We
did what no other country could do. We connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. We maintained
the canal for the benefit of all the peoples in the Americas for that period. For the United
States this was a vital interest in World War II, where major ships needed to transit the canal.
Somewhere around the time of the Korean War, when the US fleet began to be built around aircraft
carriers, it became something less than vital. That is to say, our fleets could not transit the
canal anymore. We needed to be in both oceans. It was still extremely important to the United
States. By and large it was an economic importance, that is to say we had alternatives—you could
use the land bridge from Houston to San Diego, to go to Vietnam most troops went by airplane,
they didn’t go by ship anymore. So it was very important for the United States, even more
important for Panama, and very important for Latin America, but not really strategically vital in
the same way that it had been in World War II. That interest remained very important. The issue
for the United States was how do we keep the canal open, secure, and neutral.
Now there’s a second dimension in the Panama Canal, what I call geonostalgic. This is a great
achievement on the part of America. Americans are quite right to feel great pride as a result of
this achievement. Some people translated that sense of pride into a feeling that it was ours—we
bought it, we paid for it, we should stay there forever. The world’s changed. We can still be
proud, but we need to realize that we need to relate the world in a way that doesn’t say to small
countries, “We are better than you. We are bigger than you, and we’re going to force you to do
something you don’t want.” Indeed, our real power today comes from the fact that people admire us
throughout the world. If we offer some respect and some dignity, they are willing to work
together with us to accomplish our objectives, rather than work to undermine our objectives.
That’s the purpose of the canal treaties. I think it was a great achievement by President Carter,
a great act of courage by 68 US senators that voted for it, and a great achievement for the whole
PORTER: I want to move on to a completely different area now. I know that you have said,
and I heard you say in the past, that the work you’ve done in the Latin American and Caribbean
Program (especially dealing with elections) has been exported now to other places around the
world. Why don’t you tell us about that?
PASTOR: Democracy cannot be exported, because it’s too powerful an idea. It’s not
something that can be imposed, nor is it necessary to be imposed. It’s one of those commodities
like Coca-Cola that people will pay for with their lives. All of the nations of the world are
made up of people who want their freedom respected by their government. Whereas democracy is not
the best form of government in the world, it’s as Winston Churchill once said, “It is still
better than all the alternatives.”
We work with nations and groups from throughout the world who want some help as they make the
transition from authoritarian governments to free and democratic governments. This is a very
difficult transition. In the modern world, thankfully, most people now realize that everybody is
an international citizen and that they need help from outside to make that transition work.
We were recently invited to the West Bank in Gaza by Yasir Arafat, by the Israeli government, and
by all Palestinians groups to work with all parties to monitor and mediate the electoral process
that led to the election of the new council and the new president of the West Bank in Gaza. That
was a very rewarding experience, because this was an area that had never had a general free
election. We take our work seriously of monitoring elections, but we only do it in countries that
either have had no experience in the past or have had problems in the past. There is no sense of
us wasting resources by monitoring elections in Costa Rica or in Venezuela or in Jamaica. These
are countries with very vibrant, very consolidated, very deep democracies. We work with leaders
from those countries in other countries in the world. One of those areas has been the West Bank
We’re also working with some African leaders and with some others in the Middle East in the hope
that we might be able to play a positive role. Now, how do we mediate elections? First of all,
you want to make a distinction between observing, monitoring, and mediating of elections.
Observing elections is when you come to an election a day or two before the election and leave
the day after the election. You go around, and you look. It’s very unsystematic, it’s very
anecdotal. It’s basically what most journalists do. To monitor an election is something
different. To monitor an election means that you go months before, you sense the political
climate, you know the political actors, you try to identify the political issues, you bring a
large delegation before an election, you educate them to the country, and you send them out
throughout the country with forms that ask a series of questions at every polling site. At the
end of the day, these forms come back, and you can get a picture—not just a single snapshot,
which is what an observer can do. A monitoring organization gets a picture of the whole election
and stays there long enough to make sure that that picture is an accurate one, and then makes
it’s own conclusions for the international community. Mediating elections is what we do, which is
monitoring elections plus working with all parties to make sure that all parties feel that they
are having a fair chance—that the electoral process can be free and fair. Therefore, on the eve
of the election when we go back to these parties and say to them, “Have you had a fair chance? If
the count is fair, will you accept the results?” our expectation, and hope, is that they will say
yes. We stay there through the count and have techniques that will permit us to assess whether
any problems occur. They always do occur in transitional elections. It’s inevitable. The question
is whether those problems have a pattern to them that reflect a bias and manipulation. We can
tell that through our forms. We can tell that through our delegation. We are prepared to denounce
the elections if they are rigged or to announce that they’ve gone with some problems but they are
not rigged. And, therefore, the results should be shown.
That’s the kind of work we’ve tried to pioneer and tried to develop. We worked hardest in the
case of Nicaragua over a ten-month period with all the Nicaraguan leaders to make sure that at
the end of that process every single leader there said they would accept and respect the results.
And for the first time in Nicaraguan history, on April 25, 1990, the incumbent president handed
over power to his opposition leader, something that had never occurred. For the first time in
world history, a revolutionary leader handed power to their opposition in a peaceful ceremony. We
believe that our work helped all parties to do that. We think the progress made toward
consolidating democracy in Nicaragua has been not only important for that country but for the
whole hemisphere in the world.
PORTER: That is Robert Pastor, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Program and
The Carter Center. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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